Thursday, August 16, 2018

The SCARF model

From Young Minds Are Undermined by Today's Fashionable Philosophies by Sean Malone. Not so taken by the argument Malone is making but am intrigued by the model he references in making it.
The SCARF Model

In part, I began thinking about this because my colleagues at the Foundation for Economic (FEE) and I have recently started to import some ideas from David Rock's "SCARF" model for the media we produce, and I became curious about how this might apply to society at large.

For those unfamiliar with the idea, “SCARF” is built around the concept that people are constantly seeking to avoid pain and get more rewards for their activities and that most of these behaviors center around five specific motivations (which together make up the acronym "SCARF"):




For Dr. Rock, who often acts as a management consultant to large corporations, the idea is that by remembering that these are the emotions that motivate employees, managers can better understand how to get top-quality work out of their people.

It makes a lot of sense. If you know that people are often motivated by improving their relative status among their peers, then you know that by offering people public praise, you’re bolstering their sense of pride in their work and helping them achieve their status-seeking goals and, on the flip-side, you know that if you berate them publicly, you’ll be smashing their sense of status among their peers and that embarrassment may ruin their desire to continue working effectively.

The thing about all this is that, as far as we know from neuroscience and psychological studies, these motivations are real, consistent across essentially all people, and somewhat immutable.

To one degree or another, they’re just things that we’re all concerned about. We can’t just wipe these underlying motivations away by wishing they didn’t exist. As a result, we can’t ignore them. Instead, we can either bolster them—giving people the tools to improve their status, gain certainty about the world, gain more control over their lives, feel related to others and build community, and maintain a sense of fairness about their interactions with other people—or we can try to negate them and make people feel worse about themselves.
Business/Psychology churns out a lot of intriguing ideas which are ill-supported by actual evidence but this one looks interesting.

Do You Ever Have One Of Those Days When Everything Seems Unconstitutional.

From The New Yorker.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

"I know what I said ten minutes ago. That was the old me talking."

From The New Yorker.

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Self-Portrait, 1961 by Fred Herzog

Self-Portrait, 1961 by Fred Herzog

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Forming coalitions around scientific or factual questions is disastrous, because it pits our urge for scientific truth-seeking against the nearly insuperable human appetite to be a good coalition member

From Coalitional Instincts by John Tooby.
Every human—not excepting scientists—bears the whole stamp of the human condition. This includes evolved neural programs specialized for navigating the world of coalitions—teams, not groups. (Although the concept of coalitional instincts has emerged over recent decades, there is no mutually-agreed-upon term for this concept yet.) These programs enable us and induce us to form, maintain, join, support, recognize, defend, defect from, factionalize, exploit, resist, subordinate, distrust, dislike, oppose, and attack coalitions. Coalitions are sets of individuals interpreted by their members and/or by others as sharing a common abstract identity (including propensities to act as a unit, to defend joint interests, and to have shared mental states and other properties of a single human agent, such as status and prerogatives).

Why do we see the world this way? Most species do not and cannot. Even those that have linear hierarchies do not. Among elephant seals, for example, an alpha can reproductively exclude other males, even though beta and gamma are physically capable of beating alpha—if only they could cognitively coordinate. The fitness payoff is enormous for solving the thorny array of cognitive and motivational computational problems inherent in acting in groups: Two can beat one, three can beat two, and so on, propelling an arms race of numbers, effective mobilization, coordination, and cohesion.

Ancestrally, evolving the neural code to crack these problems supercharged the ability to successfully compete for access to reproductively limiting resources. Fatefully, we are descended solely from those better equipped with coalitional instincts. In this new world, power shifted from solitary alphas to the effectively coordinated down-alphabet, giving rise to a new, larger landscape of political threat and opportunity: rival groups or factions expanding at your expense or shrinking as a result of your dominance.

And so a daunting new augmented reality was neurally kindled, overlying the older individual one. It is important to realize that this reality is constructed by and runs on our coalitional programs and has no independent existence. You are a member of a coalition only if someone (such as you) interprets you as being one, and you are not if no one does. We project coalitions onto everything, even where they have no place, such as in science. We are identity-crazed.

The primary function that drove the evolution of coalitions is the amplification of the power of its members in conflicts with non-members. This function explains a number of otherwise puzzling phenomena. For example, ancestrally, if you had no coalition you were nakedly at the mercy of everyone else, so the instinct to belong to a coalition has urgency, preexisting and superseding any policy-driven basis for membership. This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird. Since coalitional programs evolved to promote the self-interest of the coalition’s membership (in dominance, status, legitimacy, resources, moral force, etc.), even coalitions whose organizing ideology originates (ostensibly) to promote human welfare often slide into the most extreme forms of oppression, in complete contradiction to the putative values of the group. Indeed, morally wrong-footing rivals is one point of ideology, and once everyone agrees on something (slavery is wrong) it ceases to be a significant moral issue because it no longer shows local rivals in a bad light. Many argue that there are more slaves in the world today than in the 19th century. Yet because one’s political rivals cannot be delegitimized by being on the wrong side of slavery, few care to be active abolitionists anymore, compared to being, say, speech police.

Moreover, to earn membership in a group you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups. Hence, optimal weighting of beliefs and communications in the individual mind will make it feel good to think and express content conforming to and flattering to one’s group’s shared beliefs and to attack and misrepresent rival groups. The more biased away from neutral truth, the better the communication functions to affirm coalitional identity, generating polarization in excess of actual policy disagreements. Communications of practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty. In contrast, unusual, exaggerated beliefs—such as supernatural beliefs (e.g., god is three persons but also one person), alarmism, conspiracies, or hyperbolic comparisons—are unlikely to be said except as expressive of identity, because there is no external reality to motivate nonmembers to speak absurdities.

This raises a problem for scientists: Coalition-mindedness makes everyone, including scientists, far stupider in coalitional collectivities than as individuals. Paradoxically, a political party united by supernatural beliefs can revise its beliefs about economics or climate without revisers being bad coalition members. But people whose coalitional membership is constituted by their shared adherence to “rational,” scientific propositions have a problem when—as is generally the case—new information arises which requires belief revision. To question or disagree with coalitional precepts, even for rational reasons, makes one a bad and immoral coalition member—at risk of losing job offers, one's friends, and one's cherished group identity. This freezes belief revision.

Forming coalitions around scientific or factual questions is disastrous, because it pits our urge for scientific truth-seeking against the nearly insuperable human appetite to be a good coalition member. Once scientific propositions are moralized, the scientific process is wounded, often fatally. No one is behaving either ethically or scientifically who does not make the best case possible for rival theories with which one disagrees.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sitting around eating honey and barbecued porcupines.

From To Fix That Pain In Your Back, You Might Have To Change The Way You Sit by Michaeleen Doucleff.
There's a perception that we sit way more than any other culture out there — or even any culture throughout time. For the first time in human history, we sit for these long stretches, day after day.

Anthropologist David Raichlen at the University of Arizona says that is not accurate.

"No. Not from our data," says Raichlen.

Raichlen studies modern hunter-gatherers called Hadza, in Tanzania. They live primarily off wild foods, such as tubers, honey and barbecued porcupines. And to acquire this food, there's no doubt they are active.

They climb and chop trees to get honey. They dig for tubers and pound nuts.

"They do a lot of upper body work," Raichlen says. "And they spend quite a bit of time walking — at a pretty high rate of speed."

On average, Hadza adults spend about 75 minutes each day exercising, Raichlen says. That amount is way more than most Americans exercise. Many of us can't muster a measly 2.5 hours each week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So there's no doubt the Hadza are in better cardiovascular health than most Americans.

But do the Hadza actually sit less than we do?

A few years ago, Raichlen and colleagues decided to find out. They strapped heart-rate monitors onto nearly 50 Hadza adults for eight weeks and measured how often each day, they were just, well ... sitting around. The results shocked Raichlen.

"The Hadza are in resting postures about as much as we Americans are," he says. "It's about 10 hours a day."

By comparison, Americans sit about nine to 13 hours each day, on average, a study reported in 2016.

"Hate to bother you, but are you getting our supertitles for 'Rigoletto'?"

From The New Yorker.

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I therefore feel no hesitation in rejecting the validity and utility of the entire body of anthropological theory

From Anthropology's Mythology, The Huxley Memorial Lecture 1971 by George Peter Murdock. A clear-sighted indictment that is even more pertinent today and for many more fields than just Anthropology.
When I characterise the concepts of culture and social system as 'myths', I do not imply that they bear no relation to reality, for they are obviously derived from observations in the real world. I mean merely that, as reified abstractions, they cannot legitimately be used to explain human behaviour. Culture and social aggregates are explainable as derivates of behaviour, but not vice versa. All systems of theory which are based on the alleged or inferred characteristics of aggregates are consequently inherently fallacious. They are, in short, mythology, not science, and are to be rejected in their entirety-not revised or modified.

This conclusion is supported by a variety of evidence. In any established science, for example, there is substantial agreement among its leading practitioners on the essential core of its body of theory, whereas in anthropology there is virtually no such consensus. In analysing the recent volume by Fortes I discovered - to my astonishment in view of my great respect for his work - that it contained scarcely a single theoretical assumption, postulate, generalisation, or conclusion which I could accept as valid without serious qualification. I had had a similar reaction once before - in reading the theoretical work of Leslie White. And I have since experienced it a third time when, stimulated by Fortes, I reviewed the theoretical writings of Alfred Kroeber. Having known all three men fairly intimately, I am aware that none of them - has found my own views any more acceptable than I have found theirs, and that each of them has felt an equally profound scepticism regarding the views of the others. It is inconceivable that four men of comparable standing in any established field of science, such as astronomy, nuclear physics, or genetics, could differ so radically from one another on basic theoretical issues. One can only conclude from this that what Fortes, White, Kroeber, and I have been producing is not scientific theory in any real sense but something much closer to the unverifiable dogmas of differing religious sects.


I therefore feel no hesitation in rejecting the validity and utility of the entire body of anthropological theory, including the bulk of my own work, which derives from the reified concepts of either culture or social system, and in consigning it to the realm of mythology rather than science. Some of the fragments of existing theory which escape such stigmatisation will engage our attention toward the end of this paper.


In conclusion, I would like to relate an anecdote which is famous in the unwritten history of the Departnent of Anthropology at Yale. Almost exactly forty years ago, when the late Edward Sapir was conducting a seminar on primitive religion, he had a student who came from the society later studied by John Beattie, the Banyoro of Uganda. This student, in reading a rather pedestrian paper on the religion of his own people, happened to mention that in his country the shrines of the war god were tended exclusively by pries`tesses. At this, Sapir pricked up his ears and interrupted to comment that, since war is the most masculine of all occupations, it seemed remarkable that the cult of the war god should be conducted by women only.

'Why should this be?' he inquired, and proceeded, on the spur of the moment, to propound a possible interpretation, highly complex and liberally seasoned with Freudian and other symbolism. The students sat upright in fascinated attention. As he was concluding, an alternative explanation occurred to him-equally brilliant, equally complex, and equally symbolic - and he developed this in like fashion, while the students perched on the edge of their chairs, utterly entranced by this doulble demonstration of his virtuosity. When he came to the end, he turned to the African to inquire the extent to which either hypothesis accorded with Banyoro culture, but, flushed with enthusiasm at his own performance, asked him instead which interpretation was the correct one.

'Actually,' replied the student, 'neither is correct. The explanation is really quite simple. You see, when war occurs in my country, all the men go out to fight, and no one is left except women to tend the cult of the war god.'

This anecdote might well stand as an allegory of both the fascination and the falsity of all forms of anthropology's mythology.

Skiitta in the Moonlight by Konstantin Kryzhitsky

Skiitta in the Moonlight by Konstantin Kryzhitsky

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He can choose what things shall be seen by weaker minds

A pertinent observation from Using the Truth to Lie by Thales. Clever thinking expressed in rich writing.
Picture in your mind a political debate between acquaintances, perhaps on social media, or in meatspace. You make your point, your opponent makes his. Demands for evidence are made. Your opponent cites a media piece. Perhaps an article on CNN, or a reference to a study on The Atlantic. The onus is on you to prove that the item is now incorrect. Yet you cannot do so, for the citations within it are true, even though the spin has rendered it into something it really is not. How do you articulate that?

Consider this CNN headline: Children found in New Mexico compound were training for school shootings, prosecutors say.

What is wrong with it? The headline is true. The children were indeed in a compound in New Mexico, and were indeed training to commit school shootings. Ah, but it omits that this was linked to Islamic terror. Now the article itself sort-of admits this in the last section of the article.

Hogrefe said FBI analysts told him the suspects appeared to be “extremist of the Muslim belief.”

Compare this to how the same event is reported on Fox News: Investigators raided New Mexico compound on tip from terror-tied New York City imam, cleric claims.

Note the difference in spin. One emphasizes ‘school shootings’ and the other ‘terror-tied’ and ‘imam’. This is how the tone of a thing is subtly changed, depending on the journalist’s preferred viewpoint. Of course, aside from Fox News, most media outlets are Left-leaning. So the spin is much more weighted toward the Left, and furthermore Fox News is usually casually dismissed by any Leftist. It is, in essence, banned from the court of polite opinion. And yet, both articles are fundamentally true.

I’ve been on a Tolkien kick of late, for which I blame my friend Francis. And so I caught the connection quite readily when I read the above headlines:
The Stones of Seeing do not lie, and not even the Lord of Barad-dûr can make them do so. He can, maybe, by his will choose what things shall be seen by weaker minds, or cause them to mistake the meaning of what they see. Nonetheless it cannot be doubted that when Denethor saw great forces arrayed against him in Mordor, and more still being gathered, he saw that which truly is.
Denethor was shown nothing but truth by the palantir. It could not be made to lie to him. But Sauron could spin what was shown, and cause Denethor to mistake the meaning of the things he saw. This tactic is readily employed by the media, and in the past it has been extremely effective. The journalist, if confronted on his spin, could escape with the excuse “but everything I have said is true!” We know there is a wrong here, we can sense it, but to prove it unequivocally is difficult, and essentially impossible if the instances are few enough.
I encounter, not many people, but more people than in the past, with whom basic discourse has become close to untenable. They have adopted unworldly beliefs, which if you are to respect (in the sense of avoiding refuting them) preclude constructive engagement. I don't like the situation, but it is unclear to me what can be done.

I live in an area that is deep blue and have many deep blue friends. Critical Theory Social Justice versus Classical Liberal is not the issue. We share common aspirations and experiences even if there is variance in how we interpret things or the significance we attach. There is sufficient mutual respect that we can politely navigate around points of discord to find plenty of common ground and in the process, and over time, perhaps move each other's dial just a bit. No dramatic conversions of fundamental belief perhaps, but an increasing awareness of nuance.

But every now and then I encounter someone whose premises are beyond reach. They believe with deep and abiding conviction that President Trump is a fifth column Russian colluder. They believe that all whites must inherently be prejudiced against blacks and that blacks can do no wrong against whites because of history. They believe that there are whole classes of scientific controversy which can have only one interpretation.

And I don't mean that they are taking a position for rhetorical effect and are doggedly adhering to it. I mean they believe. As in Eric Hoffer's True Believers.

The point isn't that they are a True Believer. The point is that there is no bridge by which to reach them. If you do not accept their predicates wholesale, there is no means by which to share an interpretation of an event. The usual bromides of walk in their shoes, see the world through their eyes, etc. have no application. You can see their view but they will not see anything but their own. They cannot understand alternate interpretations.

The efficient response is not to engage with people whose predicates are unassailable. But that is a bleak position and encourages one to ignore that which might possibly, no matter how improbably, be true. But if there is no mutuality, there is little benefit and much effort.

I guess I need to go back and reread Hoffer and see if he has any advice.